Life, Interdependence, 
and the Pursuit of Meeting Needs

“Life is arranged to care for all that lives through an endless interdependent flow of energy and resources.”

After years of thinking, reading, writing, talking, teaching, feeling, and communing, that simple sentence came to me in a session I was leading about money at a nine-day intensive training in Chile. Perhaps being immersed in a cultural context that is so much closer to the collaborative, warm, community-based way of living that I am working towards – and that still hasn’t been wiped out fully there – brought this clarity. Or maybe it was the venue, built to mimic the non-linearity of nature. It came. And then the rest followed immediately.

Humans, and the invention of money in particular, have interfered with this flow in two ways: exchange and accumulation. Exchange interferes with the flow because it cuts it short: when I give to you and you immediately give back to me, those acts cancel each other out, and there is no flow from either of us into life. Accumulation interferes because it removes resources from circulation, reducing the total amount of what can flow. Together, exchange and accumulation have converted natural abundance, based on sufficiency and regeneration, into the twin horrors of artificial surplus and manufactured scarcity, where no amount of excess can quench the fear of scarcity.

The flow is diminished to the point of threatening life, as if the arteries and veins of life on earth are clogged.

Restoring the flow would invite us to take on both exchange and accumulation. We can transform exchange and increase the flow by uncoupling giving from receiving, as much as we can, so energy and resources travel further. We can free up resources from accumulation by keeping only what we need and giving away the rest in support of other needs, beyond our individual lives.

When I was done sharing all this, I felt the earth sigh with relief that we were talking about this and examining our practices. It was a bodily experience of connection with the physical nature of life that was fresh and unexpected, unprecedented in my life. I also felt the commitment of the earth to support our work in restoring collaboration and the interdependent endless flow of gifts called life.

The rest is details, and the details matter.

Unconditional Receiving

Genevieve Vaughan, one of the foremost advocates for the gift economy within the global north as an antidote to the destructiveness of the exchange economy, grounds her work and research in the incontrovertible reality that all of us begin our lives sustained by the unilateral giving of those who care for us. By evolutionary unfolding, we are born entirely dependent on others, “a bundle of needs”, as psychologist Alice Miller names it. Vaughan sees this relationship, primarily and not only between mothers and their offspring, as the imprint that created human bonds, the fundamental principles of gift economies, and even language.

If, when we are infants, others give to us unconditionally, just because we have needs, then we have the experience of unconditional receiving, since there is neither an expectation nor capacity for exchange. Why, then, is it so difficult for so many of us to receive without giving, even more than to give without receiving? 

Baby Sleeping

“Born in the operational trust that there is a world ready to satisfy in love and care all that he or she may require for his or her living”

Biologist Humberto Maturana sheds light on one aspect of what interferes by distinguishing dependence from helplessness. “A baby,” he says, “is born in the operational trust that there is a world ready to satisfy in love and care all that he or she may require for his or her living, and is therefore not helpless.” Tragically, most of us are raised by people whose capacity for unilateral giving is compromised. This is not because there is an individual flaw. Rather, it’s a combination of cumulative individual, intergenerational, and societal trauma combined with structural arrangements that place all of our needs in the hands of one or two people, an impossible task.

Because of this, our inborn trust is shaken, and we begin to experience receiving, and by extension need itself, as helplessness. We develop an aversion to being at the mercy of others, and receiving is associated with that kind of dependence.

In addition, the unconditional giving that does happen occurs within an island or bubble surrounded by the harsh realities of competition, exchange, and scarcity. By the time we begin to be conscious enough to reflect on our experience and to notice that we are receiving, the reality of exchange as the higher form and accepted norm is all around us. We learn that we receive by giving, that we earn our keep instead of our needs being enough of a motivator for others, and that by receiving we owe something.

Reclaiming our innate capacity for receiving takes us on a journey of recognizing, accepting, and embracing our needs, and re-developing the trust that others and life itself will respond and give us what we need. It means making requests, too, so that others can actually know what we want so they can give it to us. No small task. Learning to do this while at the same time caring for others’ needs and for the overall flow of resources that will care for all is a small, individual, revolutionary act.

Unconditional Giving

Although easier for many than receiving without giving, giving without receiving has its own challenges. In a world that we experience as based in scarcity, any time we give we then have less. If we insist on an exchange, so the inherited norm goes, then we can’t lose. What I see us 

 

A child feeding ducks

A child feeding ducks

lose is the joy of giving, the surrender to life that giving without receiving gives us. Just look at a small child who plays with giving, and you will see why Marshall Rosenberg, original developer of Nonviolent Communication, spoke of doing things with “the joy of a little child feeding a hungry duck.” Giving is pleasurable because it connects us to life and that mysterious flow that reconstitutes it moment by moment. The pleasure is enhanced when it comes in response to a need, because, by evolutionary design, we orient towards needs as we become aware of them.

Shedding Excess

Accumulation is a strategy born of mistrust. It’s an attempt to control the flow of life to guarantee that we will have enough tomorrow and the day after. Abundance is not the same as surplus. Natural abundance has to do with sufficiency and with the extraordinary capacity of life to regenerate itself provided we don’t strip away resources faster than life can absorb. Accumulation can only lead to more accumulation, because the more we accumulate the less there is in circulation, and the harder it is to trust the natural abundance of life.

Over the course of the last 7,000 years or so, we have systematically depleted nature’s resources in our more and more desperate attempts to control life: water, fertile soil, fossil fuel, air, minerals, and now the entire biosphere.

A GDP and Life Satisfaction Graph

Income and Life Satisfaction. Source: CEPR’s Policy Portal, voxeu.org/article/gdp-and-life-satisfaction-new-evidence

Individually, the antidote to this craze of accumulation includes, as a core practice, restoring our capacity to know what is enough, and to release anything beyond that. This is difficult territory, because our collective and internalized fear of scarcity interferes with our ability to know what we need and to recognize the point of enoughness. The research is out now that beyond enough there is a decline in well-being, both individually and societally.

Still, releasing control and stepping into the unknown before we have restored our trust seems suicidal in what we continue to experience as a world of separation and scarcity. Even with that hurdle on the individual level, collectively it sees that finding that capacity is essential if we are to survive and support life.

The individual practice is simple and exacting, and I have described it to many, possibly even here before. It involves enumerating the resources that I have access to, and then quantifying the needs I aim to attend to using material resources. For the latter, each of us can choose how far we want to challenge ourselves in terms of our attachment to comfort and that elusive notion of security. Once I have the mapping of resources and needs, I can see if I have access to more or less than what I have agreed with myself that I need.

If it’s less, then I know I need to make requests – of myself, of others, of life – so that I can increase my access to resources. This is also where we can find our way to working with others to change social structures that systematically exclude some groups – and, to different degrees, most people – from access to resources now controlled by the few. This is one way in which knowing my needs can be a source of empowerment and energy.

If, on the other hand, I have access to more resources than are needed to sustain my life at the level that is in integrity with my vision and values, this means that I am directly responsible for a small part of the blocking of the flow of resources, and I can then correct that small part and microscopically increase the flow. My task is then to find my way towards shedding. This entails nothing less than taking on the entire weight of our modern preoccupation with stability, comfort, security, and predictability.

Stepping into the unknown, artistic representation

Stepping into the unknown. Art by Kasra Kyanzadeh.

It means stepping into the unknown, the true nature of impermanence, beyond the incessant attention to what works for me. It means inspiring myself with the intricate interdependence of life, such as the capacity of trees, as documented in The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge, to care for the individual trees in need at any give time through a complex interconnected root system, thereby caring fully for their entire community’s capacity to thrive. It means re-orienting myself to caring for the whole, allowing resources to flow from where they are to where they are needed, like the trees. It means restoring faith in human communities to attend to all of us within the means of one finite planet. It means coming back, and forward, into trusting the mystery of how life organizes itself, in the absence of control, to care for all that lives through an endless interdependent flow of energy and resources. May we succeed while we can.

INVITATION: To discuss this and other posts with me and other readers of this blog, check in to the free Fearless Heart Teleseminars. Next dates:
Friday, December 22, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm, PT
Sunday, January 28, 2018, 10:30 am – 12:00 pm PT

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This is a space for discussing tough subjects: both personal experiences and the massive challenges in the wider world. The culture of this blog is one of looking for the possibility of forward movement through loving engagement, even, and especially, in times of disagreement. Please practice nonviolence in your comments by combining truth and courage with care for me and others you’re in dialogue with.

Image Credits: Top: “Baby Sleeping” by Pixabay, licensed under CC BY 2.0 Second “Boy_Feeding_White_Ducks” by Barelyhere, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Third: “GDP and Life Satisfaction: New Evidence.” GDP and Life Satisfaction: New Evidence | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal, voxeu.org/article/gdp-and-life-satisfaction-new-evidence. Bottom: “Into the Light” by Kasra Kyanzadeh, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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8 thoughts on “Life, Interdependence, 
and the Pursuit of Meeting Needs

    1. Pam in Minnesota

      Hello, Israel Sands – Could you say specifically what about Miki’s post and NVC correspond with Socialism? Which definition of Socialism are you using? Thank you.

  1. paulinajulian

    This post inspired me to reflect upon these 3 years as a new mother. My experience the first year, living in SF, away from my family in Mexico, was tainted with anxiety, and a feeling of isolation. I thought I had to be able to do everything by myself for my child because that was my role. On my child’s first birthday we moved to Mexico again and I had the tangible experience, as Miki describes, of being interconnected, of letting myself receive, be filled with the generosity of my family, without the urge to give back immediately. It was refreshing and humbling.

    2 years later I moved back to SF. As I read this post, I am reminded of the importance to be clear about my needs, to know that I can’t do everything on my own, nor should I. I look for the resources around me to support myself in this stage of motherhood: community, kid friendly spaces, warm clothes for both, a routine that helps us both have peace of mind.

    There is indeed, an endless flow and it’s so beautiful to see. A sigh of relief, a breath of fresh air. Thank you for the reminder to let go into this flow, and offer a more peaceful heart to my child and to life.

    Reply
  2. Verene Nicolas

    I am delighted you’ve put your thoughts down on this topic. I don’t remember you writing before about the concepts of exchange and accumulation before. What a rich exploration to learn to relate to money (and other resources) in a way that’s aligned with life.

    Reply
  3. Erik

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece! One of my needs is trying to more publicly engage in conversations around ideas and topics important to me. Another of my needs is to feel clearer for myself on how to integrate the NVC form of communicating with how to engage in the content/ideas of a piece. Thanks for providing an opportunity for me and other readers to do so here, and I hope to continue this practice here and elsewhere.

    Reply
  4. Miki Kashtan Post author

    I am posting here a comment from Ken Anno from Japan, who is unable to post it himself for mysterious reasons.

    I reply in a separate comment.

    Miki

    From Ken:

    I recently saw in a talk by Dan Siegel, the man behind Interpersonal Neurobiology that Sarah Peyton’s work is based upon. He said that people, when under threat, are wired to increase our biological tendency to think in terms of “US” and “THEM”. He claims we are not at fault for the brain that we have inherited, but we are responsible for rising above the innate tendencies to act in a certain way.

    Below is a link that will take you directly to where he mentions the above at 1:36:08.
    https://youtu.be/gyq3NZAULc4?t=1h36m8s

    I think that idea about consciously rising above that tendency also needs to be put into consideration when dreaming of a world where resources flow where it’s needed.

    Reply
    1. Miki Kashtan Post author

      Hi Ken and others,

      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s an opportunity, as good as any, to speak about something I haven’t yet brought in much to the blog: my belief, based on reading, reflection, and work with people, that patriarchal uses of power and domination of societal stories have made us all afraid as a baseline of existence.

      The mechanism that I believe Daniel Siegel speaks of is clear and simple: when we interpret danger, we activate the fight/flight/freeze circuitry in the brain. When that circuitry is activated, we lose sight of care and are focused on survival only.

      There is nothing problematic about doing this when we sense danger. It’s evolutionarily correct, as far as I can see.

      The issue that I see is why we interpret so many situations as danger, when so few really are. This is where patriarchy has interfered with our capacity and has created a massive collective danger stemming from us being in low to medium grade activation of the flight-flight-freeze system much of the time, and more and more so over time (especially with the introduction of so many devices, lights, sounds, etc.)

      That said, I agree with Siegel that, given this is our predicament, a key part of our practice involves reclaiming our capacity for choice: both in when and how we interpret danger, and in how we respond to it.

      Both of these are very much supported by the deeper practices of NVC. And the details are beyond the scope of a short comments response.

      Some more about some of this is in a recent and long article that I posted on academia.edu, and which you can also find here: http://thefearlessheart.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/From-Obedience-and-Shame-to-Freedom-and-Belonging.pdf

      I hope this is helpful.

      Miki

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